With Veganuary now in full swing, 2019 has already been named “the year of vegans” by people all across vegan internet forums, after supermarkets and fast food chains have added an array of exciting new plant-based options to their shelves in the first week of the year.

Veganuary has been groundbreaking in bringing veganism more into the mainstream, marketing the movement as a new year’s resolution to benefit your health as well as the environment and animal welfare. The official website offers guides on eating out, listing every vegan option at restaurant chains, as well as meal plans and recipes designed to make the shift as easy as possible, debunking myths that veganism has to be unachievable and restrictive.

Accessibility and inclusivity is the key to the movement’s success and though progress is being made, the vegan community still has a long way to go. Having been vegan myself for over two years, I’ve been added to almost every vegan Facebook group in existence and seen first-hand the best and worst sides of the movement. While I believe veganism to be the most ethical way of life and wouldn’t hesitate to encourage people to try it out, I take issue with a lot of tactics used in the community as well as the language used in order to promote veganism. It’s fundamental that the movement is something inclusive and accessible, but it’s also necessary to accept that it’s not possible for everyone today in the UK.

If we want to stop people from buying meat products, we need to push for cheaper vegan options.

As veganism has entered more into the mainstream, so has the idea of ‘white veganism’, the narrative of veganism being an overwhelmingly white middle-class movement, something elitist and exclusionary. White veganism is the narrative of the vegan community consisting of privileged millennials eating copious amounts of avocado on toast, but it’s far more toxic than just this. Modern veganism is often painted as a Western phenomenon and ignores the fact that plant-based diets have existed historically in many different religions and cultures. White veganism erases the history of veganism while failing to represent the experiences of non-white vegans. I have seen this toxicity play out in vegan groups of majority white people (myself included) and seen racist and harmful language used when talking about animal suffering. I have seen vegans regularly compare the suffering of animals to human atrocities (including slavery, the Holocaust and rape). When this kind of language is used in the context of veganism, it creates a toxic environment where voices are silenced and people are dehumanised in the name of animal liberation.

Secondly, I want to talk about the practicality of veganism. I think the most common myth about veganism in 2019 is that it’s expensive and only a viable option for the more wealthy. This idea partially stems from the ‘white vegan’ narrative and the stereotype of organic, gluten-free, Ocado-shopping students. As a struggling vegan student from a low-income family, I budget meticulously, shop exclusively at Aldi and eat a lot of baked beans and pasta, consequently managing to eat very cheaply. Without buying any fancy meat and dairy substitutes, veganism is probably the cheapest way of eating. Saying this, I must acknowledge my privilege as a student with eight contact hours a week and, therefore, the luxury of being able to spend time cooking. To eat a healthy, varied and nutritious diet as a vegan you either need to have time to cook meals from scratch or money to buy the now readily-available pre-prepared supermarket meals and I fully acknowledge that having the time and energy to cook a meal every night is simply not a reality for a lot of people living in the UK. All vegans must acknowledge that often the people with the least spare time are working long hours for minimum wage; having the time to carefully plan and cook meals is a luxury.

Vegans need to be active in creating a more inclusive movement and be active in campaigning for human equality as well as animal equality.

What can be done about this though? With chains such as McDonalds, Greggs and Pizza Hut adding some affordable and creative products to their menus this year, we are definitely heading in the right direction in making veganism inclusive and accessible. The vegan movement needs to do all it can to achieve this, and while it remains unrealistic for everyone to have the option of embracing a fully plant-based diet, it needs to continue to push for inexpensive substitutes and readily available information. Vegan activists should be just as active in campaigning for human rights as they are for animal rights. Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas has recently argued that a tax on meat would be beneficial in reducing the consumption of meat and the environmental impact of farming. While, in theory, I think cutting meat consumption is crucial, in practice, this tax would push the price of affordable food up and only have a negative effect on the most vulnerable in society. At the moment, convenient, easy vegan food is two or three times the price of meat options (supermarket own brand chicken nuggets compared to vegan ones, for example). If we want to stop people from buying meat products, we need to push for cheaper vegan options, rather than punishing those who currently aren’t able to adopt a plant-based diet. I reiterate that veganism has the capacity to be incredibly cheap, but it’s not convenient for a lot of working people.

To make veganism more accessible, there needs to be a drive for reducing the cost of meat and dairy substitutes instead of pushing for basic food to be more expensive. While a vegan diet remains either expensive or time-consuming, the vegan community must accept that it is not a viable lifestyle for many people. Rather than shaming and blaming those who eat meat, we must put that shame and blame on to companies and push them to produce more affordable vegan food. I’m a strong believer in positive activism and encouragement. Vegans need to be active in creating a more inclusive movement and be active in campaigning for human equality as well as animal equality. If you’ve gone vegan this month — great! But the movement still has a long way to go and it’s our responsibility to strive for that change.

Categories: Society